INFORMER. An informer is a man who lays an information, or prosecutes any person in the King's courts for some offence against the law or a penal statute. Such a person is generally called a com mon informer, because he makes a busi ness of laying informations for the purpose of obtaining his share of the penalty. [INFORMATION.] Persons are induced to take the trouble of discovering offences, for which a pecuniary penalty is inflicted on the offender, by the pro mise of the reward ; and if the penalty is imposed for the public interest, he who makes the offender known does the public a service. But still, the business of a common informer is looked on with dis like, and he who follows it is generally despised; and, perhaps, the character of common informers is generally such that they deserve all the odium they receive. They stand in a like situation to the com mon hangman. This dislike of informers, simply as such, is one of the anomalies of society, who hate their benefactor. The real foundation of the dislike, however, among those who can form a just judg ment of things is, not the act of informa tion, but the devices, tricks, and mean nesses to which a man must often resort in order to know the facts on which his infor mation must be founded. It is the same
principle which leads us often to condemn a man for making certain statements in public, not because of the statements, but because of the means by which he may have obtained his knowledge. When a penalty is too heavy, or when the law that imposes it is generally disliked by the people for any reason, good or bad, the popular dislike finds a definite object in the informer who gives effect to the law. The legislature that made the penal law is overlooked, because the legislature is a number of persons : the informer is one, and his agency is seen and felt.
In absolute governments there are spies and political informers, who are the tools of a government which has no rule but its own pleasure. Some people have been dull enough to confound all in formers in one class ; not seeing that there is a difference between an informer who helps to give effect to a law, and an informer who helps a tyrannical govern ment to entrap and punish persons sus pected of disaffection to the government or of designs against it.